The Wrong Kind of SXSW Party: Getting Noticed the Right Way at SXSW

As we have all heard a thousand times, first impressions are critical. They can make or break you, and whether good or bad, a first impression often becomes a lasting one that is hard to run or hide from.

During the first Saturday of SXSW, my coworker and I found ourselves with some time to kill and wandered the street to explore a few unofficial SXSW activities. Along the way, we came across one event poster that stopped us dead in our tracks.

A photo of Bill Cosby with the caption, “Wanna Party?” was taped to a saran-wrapped telephone pole on the corner of 6th and Congress. We, along with other passersby, were appalled, but I graciously held the corner of the poster down so my colleague could send a quick Snapchat to his girlfriend so she could share in our dismay.

The poster got our attention, that’s for sure, but was it a successful PR and marketing strategy? Did I want to go to the party? Do I remember what next big startup was throwing that can’t-miss party? Certainly not. If anything, if I’d bothered to remember the name of the company, I’d probably intentionally avoid doing business with them or buying their product out of the fear of being roofied while interacting with them.

As anyone who has attended or followed SXSW over the past several years knows, it has become a hot spot to launch a start up or make a big announcement. But it can be hard to break through the noise and captivate tens of thousands of individuals crawling around a ten-block radius of downtown Austin. However, a number of companies and products managed to be heard and caught the attention of festivalgoers and media—in the right way.

Unlike the failed Bill Cosby campaign,Piñatagrams’ “Lost Piñata” flyers managed to get positive attention from many at SXSW and gained quite a few mentions on Twitter. Flyers for the missing piñata were found on every street corner with tear off contact info, and the tiny piñatas were spotted around town with their new owners. According to Piñatagrams website, for $19.99, the company offers an alternative to a boring old card, sending an unwrapped piñata filled with a personalized message and candy to the recipient.

The fate of Piñatagrams as a company, and the tiny piñatas when they arrive via U.S. Mail, has yet to be determined, but the startup successfully captured the attention of SXSW without offending the female attendees.

Photo courtesy of Piñatagrams
Photo courtesy of Piñatagrams

Mr. Robot
The buzz of this marketing scheme started well before SXSW proper and it certainly paid off. But then again, it’s hard to miss a 100-foot ferris wheel in the midst of dozens of high rises. The Mr. Robot Ferris wheel attracted the usual SXSW crowds but families flocked downtown to get a free view of the Austin skyline from atop the 10-story Coney Island-inspired ride.

The line were wrapped around the block but Mr. Robot and USA Network will have to wait and compare the pre- and post-SXSW Nielson ratings to truly measure the effectiveness of this immersive Mr. Robot experience.

By day five of SXSW Interactive, I, like most attendees, was dragging and needed to make it two more sessions and a networking event before I could call it quits. But have no fear, Vivarin was passing out “FOMO Relief.” Two hundred milligrams of pure caffeine will surely do the trick. Maybe not, but the sentiment is there.

Vivarin (nothing more than a fancy brand name of caffeine pills) definitely knows their audience, and their street team made sure to get their product in the right hands, AND at the right time. 

And Everyone Still Loves the Mophie Dogs
Mophie employed the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” methodology and brought back their 2015 SXSW campaign. The company once again partnered with the St. Bernard Rescue Foundation and festivalgoers took a break, charged their phone and petted a dog in need.

SXSW 2016 may be over, and you may have missed the boat on making a big splash, but it’s never too early to start planning for 2017. As you’re brainstorming the next big SXSW publicity campaign, ask yourself, “How can I make attendees remember my brand and my product for the right reasons?”